Skip to main content

Full text of "Jonathan Pitney, M. D. Fifty years of progress on the coast of New Jersey"

See other formats

014 206 090 5 

3 P6 
PV ^ 






The New Jersey Historical Society, 

AXD Eead at their Meeting in the City oe Newark: 

May 20, 1886, 



NEWARK, N, J. : 








prepared at the request of 

The New Jersey Historical Society, 

And Bead at their Meeting in the City of Newark 

May 20, 1886, 



NEWARK, N. J. : 




It has been suggested to erect in Atlantic City a statue, or 
a monument to the memory of Jonathan Pitney. Atlantic 
City itself is his monument. 

In a orief biographical sketch in 1848 he wrote to his son 
thus: ''About one hundred and fifty years ago, as near as I 
can ascertain, my great-grandfather and his brother came to 
this country from England, to enjoy civil and religious lib- 
erty, of which they were deprived at home. My grandfather 
was born in Morris county. At the commencement of the 
Eevolutionary War he was an ardent Whig. He, and a 
preacher by the name of Kennedy, traversed the county to 
encourage the people to resistance and the young men to en- 
list in the cause of the country. By this means he became 
obnoxious to the Tories, who twice plundered his house of all 
they could carry off, and finally, in controversy with a Tory, 
he received a blow from which he died. My maternal grand- 
father was a soldier in the Revolutionary War at Haddonfield 
and Red Bank, and served during the War. His brothers were 
all soldiers; one died early at Ticonderoga. My father was too 
young to be engaged in the service of the country in the Rev- 
olutionary War. I was born and educated in Morris County. 
In 1830 I removed to this county and have resided here 


Jonathan, the son of Shubal and Jane Pitney, was born in 
Mendham, Morris County, New Jersey, October 29, 1797. 
He received a part of his early education at Fairchild's 
Academy. * 

*Ezra Fairchild, at Mendham, many years ago, had a famous classical school 
and educated many young men for Princeton. He afterwards removed Ms school 
to Plainfleld and finally to Flushing, L. I., where he died. He was a brother of the 
late Dr. Elias R. Fairchild, of the American and Foreign Christian Union, who died 
at Morristown. Both were sons of Ebenezer Fairchild,who was for fifty-seven years 
an Elder of the Presbyterian Church of Mendham, and nearly one hundred years 
old when he died. 


After enjoying such advantages for education as his own 
county afforded, Mr. Pitney turned his attention to the pro- 
fession of medicine. He prosecuted his medical studies in 
New York, attending lectures in the medical school of Co- 
lumbia College, where the late Dr. Valentine Mott was Pro- 
fessor. He also studied in the office of Dr. Woodruff. After 
his graduation he spent two years in the hospital on Staten 
Island and then practiced a short time in and around his na- 
tive place. In 1820, on a bright May morning, he rode into 
Absecon on horse-back, and for the space of almost fifty years 
tliereafter he was probably the most influential physician of 
the county. 

In 1831 (April 21st) he married Miss Caroline Fowler, an 
amiable lady, eminent in all domestic virtues and much 
younger than her husband. Tall in person, with a promi- 
nent aquiline nose, with long flowing locks brushed back- 
ward from a high forehead and enveloped in his long cloak, 
Dr. Pitney was a man to arrest attention and inquiry. It 
was his ambition to make his influence felt for the benefit of 
the community in which he lived. A man of decided con- 
victions, he was ever ready to assign reasons for his intelli- 
gent views. With indomitable will he seldom failed to ac- 
complish his plans. 


In old Gloucester County, before Atlantic County was 
formed, he entered upon a practice extensive and arduous. 
Not only was he called from one Egg Harbour Eiver to the 
other, but oftentimes were his services required in the regions 
beyond. The Doctor, occupying for so many years such an 
extensive domain, regarded with rather a jealous eye any 
encroachments upon his territory. This, of course, made 
him rather exclusive towards other physicians who might 
trespass thereon. His hatred of quackery, or of any sem- 
blance thereof, was intense. Doctor Pitney's method of diag- 
nosis was chiefly by inspection. Having studied medicine 
prior to the days of auscultation and percussion he placed but 
little reliance upon them; but every feature or expression 
that appealed to the eye had its significance with him, and he 
rarely gave it a wrong interpretation. 

FIFTY years' progress IN SOUTH JERSEY. 


lu civil life lie was honored by his fellow-citizens with im- 
portant positions. In 1837, living more than fifty miles from 
the comity seat, he had much to do with the division of 
Gloucester County and the erection of its eastern half into 
the county of Atlantic. 

At the first meeting of the Board of Chosen Freeholders of 
the new county, held at May's Landing May 10, 1837, Jona- 
than Pitney, one of the two representatives from Galloway 
Township, was elected the first Director of the Board and 
was sent to Trenton to receive the surplus revenue which was 
apportioned to this county by the State. For many years he 
was the Postmaster at Absecon. 

In 1844 he was the delegate of Atlantic County to the con- 
vention which sat in Trenton from the 14th day of May to 
the 29th day of June to frame the Constitution of the State 
of New Jersey. In that convention Burlington County had 
five delegates, Essex County had seven; but Hudson, Cape 
May and Atlantic Counties were entitled each to only one 
delegate. Jonathan Pitney wa§ the honored delegate from 
Atlantic County and served on the committee on the " Ex- 
ecutive Department," having as his associates on the same 
committee, Joseph C. Hornblower, Eobert S. Kennedy, 
George H. Brown, A. Parsons, Martin Ryerson, and E. P. 
Thompson. (See Journal of the Proceedings, 1844, p. 43).* 

In 1848 Dr. Pitney was nominated by the Democratic 
party, of which he was a life-long advocate, as Eepresentative 
to Congress from the First Congressional District. He failed 
of election, however, and among the causes of this failure 
was i:he reluctance of the people of his county to part with 
his services. Many voted against him simply because they 
would rather have him at home as a physician than at Wash- 
ington as a legislator. 

*In a family Bible he made tliis record: " Jonathan Pitney's. Bought with money 
received for pay as a member of the Conveution that formed the new Constitution 
of New Jersey. July 3rd, 1844." 



From November 27, 1844, to December 8, 1865, Dr. Pit- 
ney, as Notary Public, received the protests of captains, 
whose vessels had been wrecked. Among his official papers 
are now found the data of about seventy-eight vessels wrecked 
during the above-mentioned period. All these protests or 
affidavits mention the names of the vessel and the captain or 
master; tlie port of departure and the destination; the date of 
the wreck and the extent of the damage or the probability of 
total loss. More extended affidavits by the crew give a full 
and interesting account of the disaster to nine vessels, viz. : 

1. The .Schooner Baltimore, Captain Samuel Jarvis, of 
Newark, N. J., "capsized May 12th, 1840, on her voyage 
from Newark to Pliiladelphia, and has since drifted ashore 
on Absecon Beach, wliere she now lies." 

2. The Schooner William Young, Captain William Somors 
wrecked on Peck's Beach February 1st, 184G. 

3. Schooner Yazoo, of Baltimore, Md., Caj)tain Wm. 11. 
Harrison, March 25th, 1847, struck on the north bar of Ab- 
secon Inlet. All hands lashed to the rail to prevent being 
washed overboard. 

4. Schooner Margaret and Elizabeth, of New York, 
wrecked on the bar of Absecon Inlet January 7th, 1847. 

5. Brig Potapsco, of Boston, Mass., wrecked and stranded 
September 28th, 1847, on the south bar of Absecon Inlet. 
Got off on the 30th and brought into tlie inlet. 

6. Brig L'Orient, of Newburyport, Mass., driven ashore 
and stranded October 7th, 1847. 

7. Schooner Village Belle, December 22d, 1853. 

8. Barque S. J. Eoberts, of Providence, R. I., from Mar- 
seilles, France, cast ashore Februarv 22d, 1854, on the south 

9. Schooner Mari:i, of London, cast ashore March 8tli, 

Tlie manuscripts give extended accounts of the loss of the 
above-named vessels, attested by the crews. 

One of the most heart-rending disasters uj)on our coast oc- 

FIFTY years' progress IN SOUTH JERSEY. 7 

ciirred on April 16fch, 1854, when the ship Powhattan, on a voy- 
age from Havre to New York, with two hundred and fifty of 
the better class of German emigrants, was driven ashore in a 
northeast storm. One narrative says that, including the 
crew, three hundred and eleven lives were lost, and it is not 
known that one escaped. Scores of dead bodies came ashore 
upon Brigantine, Long Beach and Absecon Beach. The 
knowledge thus gained of so great danger and loss of life, as 
well as of property, prompted the philanthropic Doctor and 
otliors to urge upon Congress the erection of a light-house. 

Between 1834 and 1840 the proposal had been agitated, and 
encountered much prejudice.* After a great expenditure of 
trouble and money, a Congressional appropriation of 15,000 
was at last voted upon the proviso that a satisfactory report 
should first be made by a competent official of the Navy De- 
partment. Commodore La Vallette was commissioned to 
make the aforesaid report. He visited the beach; examined 
the coast and requested a letter from Dr. Pitney on the sub- 
ject. In this letter Dr. Pitney explained his own original 
notion of prismatic lights. Notwithstanding the exertions of 
the Doctor, the Commodore made an unfavorable report, and 
the light house project slept for several years. 

The Doctor was not disheartened by his first failure. In 
1853, after the railroad had been surveyed, he started the 
ligiit-liouse question again. With his own hands he circu- 
lated petitions for signatures, and wrote to Congressmen and 
jiul^lished articles in the newspapers advocating the project. 
The disaster of the Powhattan, only a few months later, must 
have stimulated every friend of humanity. The result of 
these labors was the granting of an appropriation of $35,000 
for a light-house and an additional one of $5,000 for a buoy. 
Thus, Atlantic has to-day one of the best light-houses in tlie 
country, which, with later improvements, cost upwards of 
$50,000 in the aggregate. The buoy, however, lias disap- 
peared. The light is classed as first order; fixed white light, 
one hundred and sixty-seven feet high. The tower was first 
illuminated in January, 1857, nearly three years after the loss 
of the Powhattan. 

* See History of Atlantic City, pages 61 and 62. 


Since the erection of Absecon light, comparatively few- 
wrecks have occurred, and with the additional life-saving ser- 
vice few lives have been lost. 


The last public service of Dr. Pitney, as the prime origi- 
nator of a railroad across the salt meadows to the sea, together 
witli all its actual and far-reaching possible results, seems to 
sur])ass in importance all that went before. It was his ambi- 
tion not to live in vain; his puri:)ose, to benefit his fellow-citi- 
zens. It is not here claimed that the construction of the 
Camden and Atlantic railroad, and consequently the erection 
of Atlantic City, were duo to him alone; Init more to him 
than to any other one person. The credit of all great works 
must be distributed. In obtaining the charter, and after- 
wards also, Dr. Pitney was efficiently aided by his neighbor, 
Gen. Enoch Doughty, an extensive land-owner of Atlantic 
county. They soon enlisted Joseph Porter, Andrew K. Hay, 
Tliomas Richards, William Coffin, W. Dwight Bell, Stephen 
Colwell and others, who owned glass factories, iron furnaces 
or large tracts of land, through which the new railroad would 

'' In the words of another,* *' There seems to be little doubt 
that Dr. Pitney was the real founder of Atlantic City — the 
spirit that first appreciated its wonderful curative powers, 
and placed effectively before capitalists its attractions as a 
watering place — dryness of atmosphere, bathing facilities, 
gunning, lishing and sailing privileges, with its ju'cximity to 
Philadelphia. It had long been known to a few, who had 
struggled through bush and sand, with slow-going teams, as 
a great health lift; but to the multitude it was known, if 
known ;it all, as a lonely region, so inaccessible and remote 
from the line of the march of empire, as to be seemingly se- 
cure from the intrusion of iiopulation and totally lieyond the 
reach of man's transforming energy. But Dr. Pitney was 
often called to the island in the discharge of his i)rofessional 

* History of Atlantic City, p. 45, by A. L. EhkHsIi, 1S84. 

FIFTY years' progress IN SOUTH JERSEY. 9 

duties, and never missed an o])2Jortunity of strolling along the 
beach to breathe the exhilarating air that then swept in from 
the sea. He marked the continuous chain of sand hills, that 
then ran along the beach just above high tide line, which was 
then about one hundred feet south of what is now Pacific 
avenue, and recognized what a charming place it would be 
for summer homes. A desire sprang up in his breast to 
make the delectable spot accessible to the great business cen- 
tres of the Union, and more particularly to Philadelphia. 
Imbued with a firm faith in its immense value as a seaside 
resort, he saw that railway communication only was necessary 
to cause the waste place to blossom as the rose. His faith 
was strong and his enthusiasm correspondingly great. * * 
The Doctor first made known his determination to organize 
a railroad company to General Doughty of Absecon, who 
zealously seconded his effort." 

Their first attempts to obtain a charter met some opposition 
and delay. Later, the Doctor went to Trenton himself, and 
after a contest, the necessary legislation was procured on the 
19th of March, 1852. 

Some of the chiefs of railroads of that day, who afterwards 
strenuously opposed the Air Line railroad, withdrew their 
opposition to the charter of this Atlantic road, because they 
did not believe that it would ever be constructed. Who, 
said tliey, who ever heard of a railroad with only one end ? 
After unexpected difficulties and delays, the road was opened 
for passenger traffic on July 4, 1854. The results of the con- 
struction of that pioneer road are not to be measured, nor 
limited by its own immediate success; nor even by the build- 
ing up of a new city, with two other competing parallel rail- 
roads, running from Philadelphia to the new city by the sea. 

By shortening the time and increasing the facilities of 
transi)ortation; by stimulating the construction of other rail- 
roads; by opening to settlement large tracts of land, which 
had been practically inaccessible; by the increase of popula- 
tion; by the enhanced value of property; by all these results, 
the system of railroad enteriirise which was thus inaugurated 
and proveu to be possible along the coast, has revolutionized 
that portion of New Jersey. 



The sea-coast from Sandy Hook to Cape May was well 
known to our brave watermen, who there had their homes 
and there built vessels for the coasting trade. But to reach 
these homes overland, from the chief cities, by the slow-going 
stage-wagon, consumed a day and a good part of the night. 
Now, every important point is accessible in from two to four 
hours, and express trains with parlor cars run from the Dela- 
ware river to Atlantic City in ninety minutes or less. 

Thirty-three years ago, the only railroad running in the 
southern half of New Jersey was the New York line from 
Camden, via Bordentown to South Amboy. Its branch of 
eleven and a half miles, from Jamesburg to Freehold, was 
opened July 18, 1853, only one year before the Camden and 
Atlantic. Now, more than five hundred miles of road have 
been constructed, covering the land with a network of rails, 
to Penns Grove, Salem, Bridgeton, Bay Side, Port Norris, 
Cape May, and all along the coast. 

It was not difficult to construct a road over the fertile lands 
of Monmouth; nor through the sandy pines; but it was a 
problem how to construct a road which could withstand the 
storm tides and the ocean's waves rolling over many miles of 
salt meadows and submerging the tracks. " Most of the old 
settlers of that section opposed the scheme, and doubted the 
practicability of the project. Quite a number said that it 
would be absolutely impossible to get a train of cars across 
the meadows." 

The difficult problem having been solved successfully by 
the Camden and Atlantic company, the example has been fol- 
lowed under similar conditions to Holly Beach and Anglesea, 
Sea Isle and Ocean City, Long Port, Beach Haven and Bar- 
negat City, Seaside Park, Berkley Arms and Mantoloking; 
while without the crossing of meadows. Bay Head, Point 
Pleasant, Brielle, Sea Girt, Manasquan, Villa Park, Spring- 
Lake, Como, Ocean Beach, Key East, Ocean Grove, Asbury 
Park, Deal Beach, Elberon, Holly Wood, West End, Long 
Branch, Monmouth Beach, Sea Bright, Highhinds and Atlan- 
tic Highlands, are more easily accessible by many trains from 
the north, as well as from the south. 

FIFTY years' progress IN SOUTH JERSEY. 11 


Lands, which were held in large tracts by the owners of 
iron furnaces and, ghiss factories, were doubly closed to the 
settler and, for agricultural purposes, were despised. Having 
now become accessible and better known, they are more high- 
ly appreciated for productiveness as well as for healthfulness. 
In producing heavy grain they may not compete with western 
farms at the present low rates of transportation; but for the 
cultivation of fruit and everything which grows upon a vine, 
and as market gardens for neighboring cities, many of these 
lands, under judicious, intelligent and industrioiis cultivation 
are well adapted. If any are skeptical, let them visit and sue 
for themselves Hammonton, Egg Harbor City and Vineland; 
each with their thousands of inhabitants who have lately 
turned the wilderness into a garden. Gradually, the remain- 
ing large estates must be brought into the market for iiidus- 
trious settlers; the valuable water-powers, now idle, will be 
utilized for manufacturing purposes, as in other places,* and 
and by all causes combined the population must increase in 
the future more rapidly than in the past. 


The effect of railroads upon population is i)atent. The 
prosperous settlements last mentioned, with their thousands 
of people, are upon lands which only a few years ago were 
covered with timber, where the hunter })ursued tlie fox and 
the rabbit, or the deer and the bear. Taking tlie four coun- 
ties, Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May, which lie 
along the sea, and omitting for the present the eastern town- 
ships of Burlington County, which extends from the Dela- 
ware Eiver to the ocean, the population of those four coun- 
ties in 1850, before they had any railroad, was 55,739, and 
in 1885, 111,010; an increase of 100 per cent, in 35 years. 
At the same rate of increase, their population doubling in 35 

* e. g., MilMlle and May's Landing. 



yeurs will be 233,020. But wliou we take into account the 
recent more rapidly accelerating rate of increase, and then 
add the eastern townships of Burlington County, it is not 
impossible and it does not seem unreasonable to anticipate, 
without counting summer visitors, that the permanent popu- 
lation of the shore counties, which was in 1850 about 60,000, 
may increase by the year 1900 to a quarter of a million. 


1850 18G0 1880 1885 

Moninouth 30.313 39,340 55,538 62,324 

Ocean ..-10,032 11,176 14,455 15,586 

Atlantic 8,961 11,786 18,704 22,356 

Cape May - - - - - 6,433 7, 130 9,765 10,744 

55,739 09.438 98,462 111,010 
Burlington 43,203 49,730 55.402 57,558 


1790 1820 1850 1860 1880 1885 

184,139 277,420 489,555 672,035 1,131,116 1,278,033 


As to the enhanced value of lands, especially of sea-side 
sands, wliicli were once regarded as " Littleworth," we are 
not left wliolly to conjecture. It is published that Dr. Pit- 
nev purchased for the C^amden and Atlantic llailroad or the 
Land Company, two hundred acres, now embracing the cen- 
(rc of Atlantic City, for seventeen dollars an acre. Many a 
building lot in that city now commands double the price 
which was ))aid for those two hundred acres. The assessed 
valuation of property, and usually below the actual value, 
was for Atlantic City in 1885, $2,602,312.50. 

Asbury Park affords another illustration of enhanced value. 
In 1869 it was assessed at $15,000, and in 1885 at nearly two 
millions. Ocean Grove also might report similar progress, 
while beyond, at Elberon, Holly Wood, Long Branch, Mon- 
mouth Beach and Sea Bright, numerous palatial residences 
are of the most costly style. 


Standing sometimes at the mouth of a mighty river as it 
empties into the sea, we do not forget that many confluent 
streams have combined to make the flood of waters, and yet 
it is interesting to trace the main stream to its source and to 
find the little spring or fountain from which it started. So, 
too, as we contemplate the marvelous results of the combina- 
tion of railroads in South Jersey, pouring their traffic to the 
ocean, we cannot forget that the Camden and Atlantic was 
the pioneer, the first to cross the State to the ocean, 
and that Dr. Jonathan Pitney was one chief originator 
of that enterprise and that he came from the hills of Morris 


To him a fellow- practitioner bears this testimony: "Dr. 
Pitney was a prominent man in all the interests of the 
county. His plans for its agricultural and material develop- 
ment were wide and far-seeing. He took a warm interest in 
education and had l)een for many years trustee of his school 
district. The cause of religion found in him ever a prompt 
and liberal supporter. As a man, he was benevolent and 
kind, hospitable and social. He was possessed of an indom- 
itable will and energy, and acuteness of intellect and orig- 
inality, and depth of thought. His knowledge was wide and 
extensive in various branches of science; although medicine 
was his favorite study, which never lost attraction while life 
lasted. In all the recent advances in the theory or practice 
of medicine he was well versed. For two years, declining 
health confined him to his house, and after the gradual de- 
cline of consumption he died on Saturday morning, August 
7th, 1869, in his seventy-second year, leaving a widow and 
two sons."* 

Before bidding farewell to the subject some may ask, what 
were Dr. Pitney's religious views? Possibly to the asperities 
and slandersf which too often disgrace political strifes, we are 
indebted for the little autobiography which was quoted at the 
beginning. That manuscript of October 3, 1848, thus ad- 

*See Somer's Medical History of Atlantic Connty, pp- 9 and 10. 
tSome political enemy had charged that he was an infidel. 


dressed his son, then in his eleventh year: " Dear Son — 
To correct some errors concerning myself perhaps it may 
be best to write you a small sketch of our family history. 
(And after giving the above account of his ancestors, adds): 
I was brought up in the doctrines and discipline of the Pres- 
byterian church, and still think them right. Upwards of 
twenty years ago I joined the Gloucester County Bible So- 
ciety. Last winter, I became a member of the Atlantic 
County Bible Society, and on the nomination of Mr. Louden- 
slager, the Methodist preacher of the circuit, was elected 
President of the Atlantic County Bible Society, which ofhce 
I still hold. As to my political opinions, I adopt the Balti- 
more Convention Platform." To us, now, his religious opin- 
ions are more important than his political. From the time 
that a Presbyterian missionary, exploring tlie county, found 
him in 1847, bis house was ever open to the traveling minis- 
ters of that cliurch. For several years he paid the rent of a 
hall for religious worship, and was a constant attendant, and 
later was a trustee of the church. Once lie remarked, ''There 
is a good deal of the Quaker in me. I have often enjoyed 
Friends' meeting as mu( h as any other." Probably he meant 
that, to his apprcliension, religion was a question between a 
man's own soul and his Creator, and that the inner experience 
was more important than tlie outward expression. While we 
regret that he was not a professing member of any visible 
church, yet in connection with a marked change in his later 
life, there is consolation in the recollection that his dying 
testimony, the last utterance of his lips, was in these words: 
"Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death 
I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy 
staff they comfort me." 

?J/!»'\| "H 


014 20S 090 5 n